It's been a while since I've tackled one of our "Behind the Botanical" close-ups of some of the materials we play with in our tanks- so let's give it another go today!
As botanicals go, there are ones that are earthy-looking, durable, filled with tint-producing tannins, creating unique aesthetics in the aquarium, and there are others which are more appropriate for use as supplemental food, biofilm recruitment, etc..."environmental enrichment"; a more "utilitarian" application, if you will.
Our friend the Calotropis Pod definitely falls into this latter category. Unfortunately, it tends to get overlooked a lot. Much like the Dysoxylum pod, it's one of this botanicals that you're likely not going to add to your tank just to create a specific "look"; rather, it's one that will prove really popular if you keep ornamental shrimp or are looking to create a "botanical-style fry-rearing system." (we'll talk about that idea some other time!)
Hailing from the family Asclepiadaceae (say that 5 times fast!), Calotropis gigantea, is a unique-looking, almost "flower-petal-like" botanical is native to Southeast Asia- Malysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Tamil Nadu, India, where our supplier is.
We call it a "pod", but it's actually the fruit of a large shrub, which is a form of...wait for it...Milkweed!
The Latifolia tree grows abundantly in the wild in dry deciduous forests in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, India. The ripe fruit and seed kernel are eaten by humans in their native locales, specifically in India, where it is also known as "Chironjee" or "Cuddapah Almond." It's also used as a cooking spice, and in Ayurveda health, an aphrodisiac, and a "cardiac tonic"- although we advise to avoid ingesting this stuff! In some scientific studies, an extract of Latifolia seeds "stimulated both cell-mediated immunity and hormonal immunity in mice."
So, yeah- I'm not exactly certain what that means, but I believe it has some medicinal properties to it.
For humans. Don't get it twisted.
What I do know is that fish love them! (and shrimp, too...in fact- probably more than the fishes!) They pick at these pods relentlessly. These botanicals soften up nicely after preparation and submersion, and they provide not only some grazing surfaces, but an opportunity for biofilms and fungal growths to propagate as well.
So, what should you expect to happen with this botanical when it's submerged? Well, for one thing, it'll start softening and breaking down pretty quickly after it's submerged in your tank. This makes them very easy for fishes and/or shrimp to graze on them or even consume them directly. It may impart a bit of color to the water, too, because its derail layers DO have some tannins in them. However, the color that you should expect is not like what you'd see from leaves and such...
The Calotropis pod is, in my humble opinion, one of the best botanicals to use in your tank when you're interested in the "food production" part, because of its soft tissues, and easy accessibility for biofilm and fungal colonization. This is one that you aren't really going to use in large quantities to create some sort of "look." Rather, it's perhaps one of the more "functional" botanicals you can use!Mixed in with other materials, it's a really cool "accessory" for your botanical-style tank.
The Calotropis pod definitely represents the allochthonous input of materials from the terrestrial environment that find their way into the aquatic habitats we admire so much. And of course, the fishes will respond to them in the aquarium as they would in their wild environments...Like, fishes such as Pencilfish and various characins really seem to go crazy for these guys, picking at them continuously- apparently consuming not only the biofilms and fungal growth on their tissues, but the botanicals themselves.
A real "win" for us!
Preparation for this botanical is pretty straightforward- a boil or steep in boiling water for around 20-30 minutes (or whatever it takes to get them to sink), and three ready to go. Not exactly long-lasting in our tanks- but we're talking about a botanical which we're primarily using for supplemental food or food production, so it's a pretty good trade-off, right?
We think so!
You keep experimenting, and we'll keep searching for new and interesting botanical materials for a variety of purposes in our aquairums.
Until next time...
Stay curious. Stay resourceful. Stay creative. Stay innovative...
And Stay Wet.